What is the church to look like?
When this question is asked, many will begin thinking about the architecture and structure of a building. And when they do, people can get extremely set on their opinions of the ideal design. The regularly shared story about a church dividing over the color of carpet, is also often pretty close to hitting home.
If we ask that same question, “What is the church to look like?” and turn to the Bible for the answer, we find out that the Bible never deals with the construction of a church building. Instead, we find that in God’s design, the church is made up of people. And not just any people, but very specifically, the church is made up of men and women who have repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus. God has very specific building plans for His people, those who make up the church.
1 Peter 3:8 is one passage of Scripture that describes in detail, God’s building plan for the church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). In this passage, we are given five key virtues that are to be developed in Christians and then displayed in our life together to the world. These virtues do not need to exist in people in order to become saved (In fact, I would argue that they cannot exist before salvation.). But for those who are saved, we as God’s people are called to grow spiritually and exhibit these virtues in our lives and, therefore, in the church body (1 Peter 2:2).
Would you prayerfully consider these five virtues in your life and ask the Lord to work in the areas you are immature in?
Unity of Mind: This like-mindedness comes from having the gospel as the focus in our lives. And what is the gospel? Jesus! The angels long to look into His Work (1 Peter 1:12). The prophets anticipated the redemption Jesus, as the Messiah, would bring. The apostles encountered the death defeating power of the resurrected Jesus. And for us, though we cannot see Jesus, we can believe in Him and know His love while longing for His glorious return. For a marathon runner, every step, every breath, every drink of water along the race is done in light of the goal to finish the race. For the Christian, we are to have the unity that comes when everything we do is shaped by the good news of Jesus.
Sympathy: This trait entails exhibiting the compassion that means one truly cares about someone else. Jesus is the ideal model of this. He not only gave people time and listened to their stories (in addition to specific accounts of this occurring in the gospels, notice also the number of meals Jesus has with people where this likely occurred too), but also Jesus sought out those who were marginalized, ostracized, and rejected by society. Christians are to take the initiative to make time with others to hear how they truly are doing. And even when we are not intentional do this, we are still reminded by Peter to be hospitable to others when God puts people needing compassion directly into our lives (1 Peter 4:9).
How can I pray for you? How is your heart? Will you help me to understand what you are going through right now? These are three very practical questions Christians can ask to show sympathy to others.
Brotherly Love: Love, a common word often wasted on food, movies, and songs. E.g. “I love this burger!” This is not the love Peter is describing. The love Peter is discussing is the love that is demonstrated in a family who stays together in good times and in hard times. It is the love that entails the powerful action of self-sacrifice. It is the love that speaks the truth with gentleness because you love the other person and do not want them to perish. It is the love that attracts the broken, the downtrodden, and the ragamuffins to church because they see this love lived out and they know they were made to be loved like this.
We find this love in Jesus who is both the model of this love and the source of this love so we too can love others sacrificially. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). Whom do you need to show this family love to in our church?
A Tender Heart: This is deep care that we are to show toward others. We are to have soft hearts so we can weep when others weep and rejoice when others rejoice. This is what Jesus demonstrated when Lazarus died. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). This virtue entails a heart that cares enough to enter into another’s pain. Tender hearts don’t injure people when they come close by the words and actions which flow forth from the person’s heart. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Are you willing to go deep with others? Is your heart soft enough to let others close to you to share their pains and burdens?
A Humble Mind: Quite simply, this is a mind that understands who one truly is in light of who God is. God is holy, pure, mighty, and the giver of every good gift. Everything one has is by God’s grace. When we live with this perspective, we see ourselves constantly in need of God’s grace. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” This perspective sees others as loved by God and in need of the gospel too. It lives not with selfish ambition or vain conceit but considers others above oneself.
Godly Virtue in Action Creates Blessing: These godly virtues are to be present in the church. When they are, the church will function as God has planned us to, as a blessing to those around us. This is what the church is to look like!
Brothers and sisters, I pray that when others look at our church (that is each one of us who is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ) they see a blessing to this community.
May God continue to transform us by grace to His design,